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US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?

By BENJAMIN WILLIS | CounterPunch | July 6, 2015

After a little more than six months since President Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro historic announcements on December 17th, 2014 that the United States and Cuba would begin to re-establish diplomatic relations, a crucial step has been taken to usher both nations down the path of normalization. The formal establishment of embassies in both countries, announced July 1st and beginning July 20th with the official opening of the embassy of the Republic of Cuba in Washington, will be the first time in 54 years that the two countries will have formal diplomatic relations.

This rapprochement that has transpired over a little more than half a year has been universally lauded and a number of foreign dignitaries have been quick to act. In May, France’s President François Hollande visited Cuba and expressed Europe’s desire to normalize relations as soon as possible and called upon the United States to end the embargo. During Dilma Roussef’s visit to the White House last week both she and Obama released a joint communique saying:

President Rousseff praised President Obama’s policy changes towards Cuba, and the Leaders agreed that the latest Summit of the Americas (held in Panama, on April 10 and 11, 2015) demonstrated the region’s capacity to overcome the differences of the past through dialogue, thereby paving the way for the region as a whole to find solutions to the common challenges facing the countries of the Americas.

American citizens have been in overwhelming support of ending the embargo for years and the latest results of last month’s Chicago Council’s poll indicates that 67% want an end to the embargo. Even a majority of Republicans (59%) think it’s time for an end to the extraterritorial anomaly that is the United States’ policy of economic strangulation.

The Cuban American community has also demonstrated in various polls, including electoral, that there is an ever-increasing majority of those who want normalization between the two nations. Since Obama’s change of Cuba policy started Cuban Americans have taken advantage of executive actions directed at them that gave the right to unlimited travel and send remittances to the island in 2009. In his 2012 re-election bid, Obama won the Cuban American vote in Florida and, emboldened, has continued to open up inroads within this powerful voting block in Southern Florida with his calls for normalization of relations.

As in most aspects, politicians usually lag behind society.

While the president has shown leadership it is up to Congress to dismantle the odious embargo codified in the Helms-Burton Act and also repeal other legislation that are aimed at punishing Cuba like the Torricelli Act of 1992 and the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

Although several measures that would chip away at the embargo have been introduced in both chambers, there are still many Congress members who take the word of a few “representatives” who espouse to champion the aspirations of Cubans and Cuban Americans as if they truly spoke for these citizens as a whole. This cabal of recalcitrant hardliners is tragically failing their constituencies and the people on the island, whose misery is perpetuated by the pro-embargo stance of these hypocritical, self-serving opportunists. Their continued presence in Congress is something that the 1.8 million Cuban Americans who reside in southern Florida are going to have to reckon with in upcoming election cycles.

Indeed, even when Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) S. 299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act has garnered 44 cosponsors and bipartisan support, the odds that it get to a filibuster-proof 60 votes is still low as reflected by govtrack.com having put the bill’s chances of passing at 11%. It would need that to avoid the histrionics of Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Each of these legislators have sworn through clenched teeth that they will not allow any gains made by Obama’s overtures towards Cuba to continue and, in Cruz and Rubio’s case, have vowed to reverse all progress made with the island if elected to the White House.

Travel to Cuba has been a hot topic and since December 17th’s announcements there has been a 36% uptick in Americans visiting the island. Celebrities, politicians, business leaders, and curious Americans have flocked to the island. Airbnb’s fastest growing market is Cuba. Even White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told a reporter that the president “would relish the opportunity” to visit Havana in 2016.

However, this past June 18th the House Appropriations Committee passed its FY 2016 Financial Services Appropriations bill. It contains three “Cuba-specific” prohibitions that were drafted by one of the most out-of-touch members of Congress – Mario Diaz-Balart. These prohibitions are a threat to the advancements in U.S.-Cuba relations and seek to effectively end president Obama’s highly successful “people-to-people” policy that has generated interest among all Americans to go to Cuba and see for themselves the devastating effects of the embargo. These measures will also hurt Cubans on the island who have benefited by the influx of tourism and those Cuban Americans who have invested in family businesses and enterprises in a nascent market economy. What will Diaz-Balart be facing on Election Day when a majority of his constituents have already voted against him and his draconian legislation with their feet by going to Cuba in the thousands and with their pocketbooks by sending money millions to loved ones on the island?

With all that has been accomplished in the past several months it should be noted that any or all of it could be sabotaged by the misguided efforts of a few delusional congressional members who have done very little in their undistinguished careers except perpetuate the pro-embargo industry. All the bills and measures for free travel and more commerce can be introduced but as long as these obstructionists remain in office full normalization will be a delayed longer than it should. Repealing the embargo will probably only happen if some, hopefully all, of these politicians are removed from office.

Normalization = Normal

Every day a new group or coalition appears that is in favor of travel and commerce with the island. James A. Williams, director of Engage Cuba and the New Cuba PAC, expressed this in an interview on June 16th on CNBC’s Squawk Box with Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

MCC: “… There’s really nothing left to the embargo. What you’re calling for is an end to the embargo, essentially, right? Is there really anything left?”

JW: “Yeah, well, there are pieces of.., it depends on what you call the embargo. I mean, what I think we’re saying is we’re not interested in the debate around the democracy programs and some of these other issues that I think, you know, are still contentious and deserve a full debate, but I think we can all agree that trade and travel restrictions need to be lifted immediately.

MCC: “I’m confused, so when it comes to the democracy programs you just don’t want to talk about them? You don’t support them? You do support them?

JW: “It’s just not an issue we’re focusing on. You know our campaign is led by the private sector on its ability to travel freely, trade freely, uh, and have the opportunity for Americans to compete.”

I’d like to thank James Williams for graciously ceding the floor to those of us who have been “focusing on” these “contentious issues” for more than a few months. During the Obama era, it has been imperative for moderate Cuban American voices to defend the President’s actions and to call for the normalization of relations. A number of organizations, with which I have had the pleasure and honor of working, have been at the forefront of the U.S-Cuba conversation within the Cuban American community, denouncing U.S. policy that includes “democracy promotion”, and not working “behind the scenes” as Williams claims to have been doing these years.

The so-called “democracy promotion” programs have ham-handedly put the lives of Cubans and Americans in danger because of the illegal nature of said programs. Alarmingly, these programs have seen their budget increased to $30 million for FY 2016- a fifty percent increase from the $20 million in 2015. Alan Gross’ five-year imprisonment was the result of his activities as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a benefactor of this increase. His wife sued the American government in 2013 for more than $60 million dollars for having sent him “on five semi-covert trips to Cuba without proper training, protection, or understanding of Cuban laws.” The case was eventually settled for $3.2 million a week after the historic announcements that released him on December 17th of last year. When Engage Cuba launched it did so in the residence of Scott Gilbert, Gross’ lawyer, with Gross present as a spokesperson for the endeavor. Using Gross as a spokesperson and then not wanting to talk about “democracy programs” defies credulity.

Some of Williams’ newfound friends (read backers), Cuban Americans who represent the Miami power base and until just recently had poured millions into the pro-embargo lobby, also didn’t want to focus on “contentious” issues like Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism these past six years. So it’s no surprise that Engage Cuba doesn’t want to talk about the “democracy programs”. Nor do they want to broach the topic of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo and the violation of Cuban sovereignty that it represents. Nor do they have much to say about the recent immigration crisis brought upon by Cubans realizing that they won’t be able to take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act much longer if relations are truly normalized. The United States unfair policy encourages Cubans to test their fate with the swirling currents of the Straits of Florida on homemade rafts and this perilous exodus will persist as long as U.S. law encourages it. Will it also be left to “others” to call for the immediate closure and abandonment of Radio and TV Marti, a $28 million taxpayer footed boondoggle that doesn’t even reach Cuban audiences? In short, if it’s not travel and trade Engage Cuba isn’t interested in commenting on it, for now.

Whether or not these supposed champions of “engagement” want to address the myriad obstacles that still stand in the way of full normalization, the Cuban government has, and will continue to call for an end to these hostile policies that violate Cuban law and international norms established in the Vienna Convention and the 1970 Declaration of the United Nations General Assembly on principles of international law concerning friendly relations of cooperation among states.

In an official statement by the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Cuba on July 1st, the Cubans delineated a number of issues that would need to be rectified in order to fully normalize relations:

“There can be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade that continues to be rigorously applied, causing damages and scarcities for the Cuban people, is maintained, it is the main obstacle to the development of our economy, constitutes a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.

To achieve normalization it will also be indispensable that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned, that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international norms are harmful to our sovereignty cease, that programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization are eliminated, and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.”

So no, it’s not just as easy as saying that restrictions on travel and trade need to be lifted immediately. The Cubans want a normalization that is actually “normal” and not just an influx of tourists and businessmen who either come to the island led by the perverse American provincial thought that Cuba needs to “be seen before it’s ruined” or by the repugnant philosophy that American dollars will fix every Cuban’s problems.

Besides, as long as the embargo exists there will always effectively be a travel ban because there is no infrastructure for all the Americans who suddenly want to go to visit. And, if Cuba cannot receive the international financing that it needs to truly make the recent economic reforms function, then no American business is going to be willing to invest any significant amount in a country where it can still be penalized by Uncle Sam.

After more than 50 years of animosity both nations are going to need diplomatic corps that aren’t hindered by extraterritorial legislation that puts them at odds. There is much work to be done in order for the United States and Cuba to trust each other and if there is a pre-ordained policy for regime change then that trust will never fully be forged.

Benjamin Willis is a founding member of Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) and Co-Director of the United States Cuba Now PAC. http://www.uscubanowpac.com

July 6, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Illegal Occupation | , , | 1 Comment

Israel seizes 600 dunums of Palestinian lands in Occupied Jerusalem

Palestine Information Center – July 5, 2015

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, ordered that 600 dunums of Palestinian lands in al-Issawiya, in northern Occupied Jerusalem, be temporarily confiscated allegedly for gardening purposes, Peace Now reported afternoon Saturday.

The misappropriation order was issued using a special municipal law that allows the municipality to exploit an empty lot for public uses for five years in cases where the owner does not develop it. Al- Issawiya locals found the orders spread out in their fields.

The lands in question have been targeted by the Israeli occupation authorities in recent years, when a plan to declare them a National Park was promoted in order to create an Israeli dominated continuity between Occupied Jerusalem and the area of E1. The park is also meant to block the potential development of the adjacent neighborhoods of al-Issawiya and al-Tur.

It is required according to the law that the land owners refuse or choose not to make use of the tracts. When the owner wants to use his or her private property they are allowed to do so in accordance with the approved construction plans, Peace Now further stated.

In the case of al-Issawiya, the owners wish to make use of their lands. One month ago, the municipality uprooted trees that were planted by the Palestinians under the pretext of unlicensed cultivation. Thus, it seems now very hard to explain why a Gardening Use Order is required in such case when the owners wish to do the farming on their own.

According to analysts, it seems that in order to bypass the need to declare the lands as National Park, the Israeli occupation authorities are trying to take over the lands through other illegal means.

Peace Now added that the goal of the Israeli authorities is to prevent any potential Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem by taking over and blocking the lands necessary for the future development of a viable Palestinian state. The Jerusalem Municipality and the National Parks Authority seem so obsessed with creating an Israeli dominated corridor in the area, making use of the law only as a pretext for a political agenda.

July 5, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel Continues to Cripple Gaza with its Sea Blockade

“No humanitarian crisis here” say Netanyahu and Ya’alon

By Stuart Littlewood | Dissident Voice | July 1, 2015

Governments should support brave humanitarian voyagers and back their play in future.

Welcome to the latest chapter in a long tale of unspeakable cruelty.

Israel’s military are once more raiding mercy ships on the high seas in an effort to prevent humanitarian aid reaching the 1.8 million souls in shattered Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Swedish boat Marianne with 18 passengers has been “interdicted” by Israeli commandos 85 miles from the Gaza coast and towed to Ashdod. The three other vessels in the flotilla turned back and another big-hearted mission ended “with a whimper”.

Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon called his operation to deprive desperate, poverty stricken Gazans a “success”. The Marianne‘s passengers would be be deported. “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” he added.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “This flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting Hamas and ignores all of the horrors in our region”, and he added that a panel established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon determined that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is lawful.

“Israel is a democracy that defends itself in accordance with international law.” He stressed there was no “siege” of Gaza,

There’s no siege of Gaza, no humanitarian crisis? Anyone who’s been there knows Netanyahu and Ya’alon are liars.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition said on Monday that at around 2:00am the Marianne reported that she was surrounded by three Israel Navy boats in international waters some 100 nautical miles from the Gaza coast. Radio contact was then lost. In a statement they said:

We have no reason to believe that Marianne’s capture was ‘uneventful’, because the last time the IDF said something like that, in 2012, the people on board the Estelle were badly tasered and beaten with clubs. Back in 2010, ten passengers of Mavi Marmara were murdered by the IDF during a similar operation in international waters.

“Reckless to travel to Gaza”

Britain has ‘form’ when it comes to disregarding international law and keeping the Israeli blockade going. Back in July 2009, I received a letter from the office of Britain’s then foreign secretary, David Miliband, in reply to questions about Israel’s hijacking of the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity on the high seas and the outrageous treatment of six peace-loving British citizens including the skipper. They were en route to Gaza, not Israel, had their gear stolen or damaged and were thrown into Israeli jails. The letter said:

All those on board, including six British nationals, were handed over to Israeli immigration officials. British consular officials had good access to the British detainees and established that they were treated well.

That’s not the story the peaceful seafarers told. They were assaulted, put in fear for their lives and deprived of their liberty for fully a week – a long time in a stinking Israeli jail – for committing no offence whatsoever.

The letter continued:

The Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 30 June that it was ‘vital that all states respect international law, including the law of the sea’… We regularly remind the Israeli government of its obligations under international law on a variety of issues, including with respect to humanitarian access to Gaza as well as Israel’s control of Gazan waters…

Our Travel Advice makes clear that we advise against all travel to Gaza, including its offshore waters; that it is reckless to travel to Gaza at this time…

So, instead of keeping the seaways open, it seems the British Government was colluding with Israel to keep part of the Holy Land off-limits to British pilgrims, humanitarians and businesspeople and implicating itself in the collective punishment inflicted by the Israeli regime on the citizens of Gaza.

A year later the Mavi Marmara was the target for armed assault on the high seas by Israeli commandos, who left 9 passengers dead and dozens injured. The vessel was part of the Free Gaza flotilla. When reports were coming in that Israeli gunboats had “intercepted” the flotilla 90 miles out to sea and threatened humanitarian workers that they would be boarded and towed to an Israeli port, I emailed Britain’s then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg: “Where is the Royal Navy when it’s needed to protect life and limb of the 30-odd British nationals?”

Ministers had themselves received advanced warning of Israel’s intention to stop the flotilla “by any means”, and the British people wanted their government to do them proud and provide real protection for those brave souls in their peaceful mission to bring relief to Palestinians whose lives were made a living hell by the bully-boys of the Middle East.

They were, after all, only doing the right thing… doing what the West’s cowardly leaders wet their pants at the very thought of doing.

Blockade “unacceptable and unsustainable”. So why is it still in place 9 years later?

A few months earlier, in the run-up to the general election, Clegg had written in The Guardian:

…And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.

But Clegg, now in power and able to act, was as wimpy as every senior minister before him when put to the test:

The Government was very clear in its disapproval of the Israeli actions which ended in such heavy and tragic loss of life.

We have underlined the need for a full, credible, impartial and independent investigation into the events… Israel’s announcement of an inquiry headed by former Supreme Court judge Yaakov Tirkel is an important step forward….

These events… arose from the unacceptable and unsustainable blockade of Gaza…. It has long been the view of the Government that restrictions on Gaza should be lifted – a view confirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which called for the sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and called on states to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation persisting there.

It is essential that there is unfettered access – not only to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, but to enable the reconstruction of homes and livelihoods and permit trade to take place.

It was then — and still is now — pointless calling for the blockade to be lifted. Israel’s repeated promises to “ease it” are purely cosmetic. In 2010 incoming goods to Gaza rose by a miserable 7 or 8% while the block on exports remained. That’s all the West’s feeble hand-wringing achieved.

UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (America abstained on Israel’s orders, according to former prime minister Ehud Olmert) called for the reopening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. To this day there is no sign of Israeli compliance.

The following year, 2011, MP Caroline Lucas quizzed foreign secretary William Hague in the Commons, as recorded by Hansard (29 June)….

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion): Earlier today, Palestine solidarity groups, politicians, teachers and others marked the anniversary of the attacks on the Free Gaza flotilla last year by sailing down the river outside Parliament and marking the launch of a new Free Gaza flotilla. As the Foreign Secretary has previously said that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable, will he tell us what further action he is taking to help get the siege lifted, and will he do everything that he can to get guarantees that this new flotilla will be safe from attack?

Mr Hague: We have continued to take the action that I set out in the House last year. We have urged Israel greatly to improve access to Gaza. It has taken some steps, but those steps have not been as fruitful as we had hoped when they were set out. Egypt has now opened an important crossing into Gaza, which may also provide some relief. The answer relies on the general lifting of a blockade of Gaza and on a negotiated two-state solution in the middle east. However, embarking on new flotillas is not the way in which to bring that about. We advise against all travel to Gaza by British nationals, which includes people who may be thinking of boarding a flotilla to go there. We hope that Israel will make only a proportionate response to any such flotilla, but it is, none the less, not the way in which to sort out the problems of the middle east. Such problems require negotiations in good faith by the parties concerned.

Hague’s answer might have been written by Israeli speech writers. He insisted that flotillas were “not the way”. Well, what is? The proper way to break a siege, which the UN itself calls “illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, is surely for the UN to apply sanctions. Failing that, the right thing would be for UN warships to break the siege… or for international civil society to do it escorted by UN warships or by warships belonging to the nation(s) of the flagged humanitarian vessels threatened with piratical aggression.

The proper way for Israel to avoid trouble would be to end its illegal blockade of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the rest of Palestine, and not interfere with humanitarians going about their lawful business.

As for “negotiations in good faith”, when did they ever happen?

A year after Israel’s murderous assault on the Mavi Marmara Hague was making more daft remarks in the House of Commons:

• “Our clear advice to British nationals is not to travel to Gaza.” Music to Israel’s ears, of course, as Hague helped to legitimize the illegal sea blockade..

• “Their welfare [meaning the British nationals on board] is our top priority.” Hague knew of Israel’s intention to go to any lengths, including the use of lethal force, to stop the mercy ships but took no precautionary action.

• He referred to “individuals who are allegedly involved in violence against Israeli servicemen during the boarding”, but failed to grasp that the violence was committed by Israeli storm-troopers dropping from helicopters with guns blazing under cover of darkness in international waters.

• “Restrictions on Gaza should be lifted – a view confirmed in United Nations Security Council resolution 1860.” Bravo, he gets that bit right. But Resolution 1860 goes much further and calls for the sustained reopening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which provides for:

– the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank
– bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza
– the building of a new seaport in Gaza
– re-opening of the airport in Gaza

When did we see any of that happen?

Hague was challenged by Sir Gerald Kaufman, the straight-talking Jewish MP, who pointed out that any one of the 37 UK citizens might have been killed when the Israelis “committed a war crime of piracy in international waters, kidnapping and murder—and all in pursuit of upholding an illegal blockade on Gaza that amounts to collective punishment…” He asked Mr Hague for his assurance that further steps would be taken if the Israelis failed to comply with the modest request that had been made.

But Hague sidestepped, saying: “It is our strong advice to British nationals, as it has been in the past and will be in the future, not to travel to Gaza — let me make that absolutely clear — as they would be going into a dangerous situation, but it is absolutely wrong to maintain the blockade.”

MP Jeremy Corbyn asked if it wasn’t time for sanctions such as revoking the EU-Israel trade agreement. Hague replied that he did not think imposing sanctions was the right policy either – but gave no reason.

MP Frank Dobson suggested that Britain and the other European members of NATO should give naval protection if another flotilla were to set off for Gaza, with the Royal Navy reverting to its traditional role of protecting the freedom of the seas. Hague dismissed this too.

As usual, no consequences for Israel’s crimes were contemplated. And the Government chicken coop happily clucked its approval as Hague handed the Israelis total victory. Today, five years on, Israel is making the same threats and committing the same acts of piracy against the latest flotilla.

Legal or not?

Israel’s naval blockade is illegal and so was Israel’s interception of the Mavi Marmara and other Gaza-bound vessels in international waters in May 2010. So said the United Nations fact-finding mission set up by the Human Rights Council.

The Mission’s team, chaired by Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, QC, a retired Judge of the International Criminal Court, reported they were “satisfied that the blockade was inflicting disproportionate damage upon the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and that as such the interception could not be justified and therefore has to be considered illegal…

The Mission considers that one of the principal motives behind the imposition of the blockade was a desire to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas. The combination of this motive and the effect of the restrictions on the Gaza Strip leave no doubt that Israel’s actions and policies amount to collective punishment as defined by international law… No case can be made for the legality of the interception and the Mission therefore finds that the interception was illegal.

That wasn’t all. The naval blockade was implemented in support of the overall closure regime.

As such it was part of a single disproportionate measure of armed conflict and as such cannot itself be found proportionate. Furthermore, the closure regime is considered by the Mission to constitute collective punishment of the people living in the Gaza Strip and thus to be illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Intercepting the Mavi Marmara on the high seas was “clearly unlawful” and could not be justified even under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations [the right of self-defence].

The Centre for Constitutional Rights also concluded that the Israeli blockade was illegal under international law:

Due both to the legal nature of Israel’s relationship to Gaza – that of occupier – and the impact of the blockade on the civilian population, amounting to ‘collective punishment’, the blockade cannot be reconciled with the principles of international law, including international humanitarian law. It is recalled that the international community, speaking through both the United Nations and individual States, has repeatedly and emphatically called for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The flotilla did not seek to travel to Israel, let alone ‘attack’ Israel. Furthermore, the flotilla did not constitute an act which required an ‘urgent’ response, such that Israel had to launch a middle-of-the-night armed boarding… Israel could also have diplomatically engaged Turkey, arranged for a third party to verify there were no weapons onboard and then peacefully guided the vessel to Gaza.

Craig Murray was Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and responsible for giving political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in enforcement of the UN authorised blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments. He is therefore an internationally recognized authority on these matters. Referring to the participation of an American boat he said:

Right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the United States is a full party. Any incident which takes place upon a US flagged ship on the High Seas is subject to United States legal jurisdiction. A ship is entitled to look to its flag state for protection from attack on the High Seas…

Israel has declared a blockade on Gaza and justified previous fatal attacks on neutral civilian vessels on the High Seas in terms of enforcing that embargo, under the legal cover given by the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. There are however fundamental flaws in this line of argument. It falls completely on one fact alone. San Remo only applies to blockade in times of armed conflict. Israel is not currently engaged in an armed conflict, and presumably does not wish to be. San Remo does not confer any right to impose a permanent blockade outwith times of armed conflict, and in fact specifically excludes as illegal a general blockade on an entire population.

Sporadic attacks from Gaza did not come close to reaching the bar of armed conflict that would trigger the right to impose a naval blockade, he said. When the UK suffered continued terrorist attack from the IRA (Irish Republican Army), sustaining many more deaths than anything Israel has suffered in recent years from Gaza, it would have been ridiculous to argue that the UK had a right to mount a general naval blockade of the Republic of Ireland.

The EU Commission declared that “all those wishing to deliver goods to Gaza should do so through established channels”. The “established channel” for delivering goods to Gaza is, of course, the time-honoured route by sea, which is protected by maritime and international law. Flotilla organizers have offered their cargoes for inspection and verification by a trusted third party to allay Israel’s fears about weapon supplies. They should not have to deal direct with the belligerent regime that’s cruelly turning the screws on civilians with an illegal blockade. Anyone suggesting they must hand over their cargo to the aggressor seeks to legitimize the blockade, which we all know to be illegal and a crime against humanity.

Quite simply, an attack on civilian ships carrying humanitarian assistance to Gaza cannot be justified by the existence of a blockade that violates international law. So Israel doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Nor does the cowardly British Government. Nor do the 80 percent of Conservative MPs and MEPs who, for whatever dark reasons, love and adore the abhorrent Israeli regime and the war criminals who run it. Therefore “all good men and true” should rally to support those brave humanitarian voyagers and ensure their governments back their play in future.

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel/Jordan negotiate reopening al-Aqsa to non-Muslims

PNN – June 30, 2015

Jerusalem – Hebrew newspaper Haaretz today revealed that Israel and Jordan have been involved in negotiations for a number of months concerning reopening Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount to non-Muslim visitors.

Haaretz further clarified that there would be procedures put in place in order to prevent visitors being refused entry on the grounds of their religion.

Al-Aqsa Mosque has been closed to non-Muslims since the outbreak of the third Intifada in 2000, before which Jewish and Christian people were also allowed to enter freely.

Although Palestinians hold custodianship of the holy site through Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, head imam and manager of al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel claims sovereignty over all of Temple Mount.

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) are permitted to patrol the site despite control of the mosque officially being held by the Islamic Waqf Trust, who are independent of the Israeli government.

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel Hijacks Humanitarian Ship to Gaza in International Waters

By Stephen Lendman | June 29, 2015

Gaza has been lawlessly blockaded for nine years – entirely for political, not security reasons. Israel wants its 1.8 million people slowly suffocated.

Flotilla III is the latest humanitarian mission bringing vital aid – symbolic of how much more is needed and a call for world leaders to intervene responsibly for suffering Gazans, victimized by Israeli viciousness.

The latest news from Ship to Gaza Sweden reads as follows:

“Marianne and the #FreedomFlotilla right now

Boarded by Israeli navy in international waters

Distance to Gaza: 97 nautical miles

Last known position: 31.716667 latitude, 32.550000 longitude

Position received at: 29 June 00:57 (CET)

Speed: Unknown”

Hours earlier, Ship to Gaza’s site reported Marianne’s interdiction in international waters, then taken to Israel’s Ashdod seaport. Activists and international politicians on board include:

Dror Feiler, Sweden: musician and composer

Bassel Ghattas, Israel: Palestinian MK

Dr. Moncef Marzuki, Tunisia: former Tunisian president

Ana Miranda, Spain: European Parliament member

Nadya Kevorkova, Russia: RT International correspondent

Kajsa Ekis Ekman, Sweden: journalist and author

Robert Lovelace, Canada: Queen’s University professor

Ammar Al-Hamdan, Norway: Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent

Mohammed El Bakkail, Morocco: Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent

Ohad Herno, Israel: Israeli TV Channel 2 journalist

Ruwani Perera, New Zealand: MaoriTV journalist

Jacob Bryant, New Zealand: Maori TV journalist

Crew members include: Joel Opperdoes (Sweden) Gustave Bergstrom (Sweden), Herman Reksten (Norway), Kevin Neish (Canada), Jonas Karlin (Sweden), Charlie Andreasson (Sweden)

Three other Flotilla III vessels heading for Gaza changed course and returned to their ports of origin – Rachel, Vittorio and Juliano II.

In total, 47 participants from 17 countries are involved. Their mission is “break(ing) the illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza,” as well as opening the territory to the world. A statement issued said:

“We once again call on the government of Israel to finally lift the blockade on Gaza. Our destination remains the conscience of humanity.”

The Marianne of Gothenburg carried medical equipment and solar panels. Flotilla spokesman Petros Stergiou reported contact with the vessel lost around 2AM local time Monday as three Israeli naval ships approached it.

“What we learned is that the Israeli navy attacked the Marianne about 100 nautical miles from the shore of Gaza,” he said.

Activists on board “said they could see three military boats approaching them that had identified themselves as being military.”

“Once again, the Israeli government and its military acted like state pirates and attacked our boat in international waters,” Stergiou explained. IDF spokesman Peter Lerner called the seizure “uneventful.”

Netanyahu commented as expected, saying “(t)his flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting the Hamas terrorist organization and ignores all of the horrors in our region.”

He congratulated Israeli naval commandos for their high-seas piracy. He lied saying he acted according to international law and support from a “UN Secretary-General committee.”

Defense Secretary Moshe Ya’alon issued a similar statement irresponsibly claiming the mission has “no humanitarian intentions…which instead of caring for Gaza residents, tries to smuggle in weapons (to be) use(d) against Israel and its civilians.”

Fact: Hamas is no “terrorist organization.” It’s Palestine’s democratically elected government.

Fact: Israel and America bear full responsibility for regional “horrors.”

Fact: Palestinians are longstanding victims – along with Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians, Yemenis and others living under monarchal or military dictatorships.

Fact: No flotilla or other humanitarian missions carried weapons for anyone. The whole world knows it. So does Israel.

Its blockade breaches international law. It’s an act of war against 1.8 million largely defenseless Gazans – denied their fundamental human rights.

Poverty and unemployment are extreme. Most Gazans need international aid to survive. The Strip’s most arable land is off limits. Israeli buffer zone diktats prohibit cultivation. Fishing in 85% of Gazan waters is banned.

A nutritional crisis continues along with inaccessibility to clean water for 90% of Gazans. An acute shortage of medicines, medical supplies, building materials and other essentials exists.

Ship to Gaza activists say the international community fails to help a trapped population desperately in need. “As human beings, we cannot stand by silently while witnessing what the blockade is to doing to” people deserving much better. (T)herefore we will act,” they said.

We’ll continue “send(ing) more ships with many more people (in) solidarity with the people of Gaza.”

“New groups are being formed all over the world…(O)ur coalition is growing…Our (mission) is a natural, brotherly action; our objective is humanitarian; our basis lies in international law; and our method is non-violent.”

Israel’s blockade severely restricts movement of people and goods into and from Gaza. It constitutes lawless collective punishment – strictly prohibited under international law.

It deprives Gazans of their livelihoods, security, accessibility to proper nutrition, clean water, medicines, medical care, education, and ability to move freely.

Israeli aggression denies many of their right to life and well-being. Israeli media reported IDF commandos seizing the vessel overnight without incident or injuries to activists on board.

We’ll know more when they’re able to speak for themselves, explain exactly what happened and how they were mistreated.

Israel’s interdiction was high-seas piracy – a lawless bandit act. An IDF statement lied claiming it acted “(i)n accordance with international law.” It blatantly violated it.

Pre-recorded SOS messages called for international help before seizure by Israeli commandos occurred.

Based on how other interdicted activists were treated, Marianne participants can expect short-term detention under harsh conditions, abusive interrogations, confiscation of their possessions, and perhaps denial of food, water and outside contacts, followed by deportations.

Gazans remain trapped and isolated under brutalizing siege. The Al Haq human rights organization reported continued Israeli use of “excessive force” across the West Bank and Gaza – using live fire and other forms of brutality against defenseless civilians, “disregarding Palestinians’ right to life.”

Al Haq director Shawan Jabarin said Palestinian officials delivered documents to the International Criminal Court charging Israel with the crime of apartheid and 22 other criminal offenses, including seven war crimes – pertaining to Operation Protective Edge, illegal settlements, denial of due process and judicial fairness, as well as mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners, mostly held for political reasons.

Throughout nearly half a century of brutalizing military occupation (lawless under international law), punctuated by intermittent acts of aggression, no Israeli government or military official ever was held accountable. Expect justice again denied this time.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , , , | 1 Comment

Freedom Flotilla III en route to Gaza; military plane spotted overhead

nasser-hamdaduche-with-ann-wright-and-abouzaid-el-mokrie-el-idrissi-and-abdul-latif-freedom-flotilla-III

From left to right: Algerian MP Nasser Hamdaduche; Former US Army colonel and retired State Department official Ann Wright; Moroccan MP Abouzaid El Mokrie El Idrissi; and journalist Abdul Latif from Echorouk TV on one of boats of the Freedom Flotilla III, sailing in international waters towards Gaza

By Celine Hagbard | IMEMC News | June 28, 2015

On June 26th 2015, four boats of the 2015 the Freedom Flotilla III set sail toward Gaza to try to break Israel’s nine-year-long economic siege on Gaza. The ships are planning to sail from international waters directly into Palestinian waters, with no Israeli involvement. But just hours after setting sail, the captain of one of the ships took note of a military reconnaissance plane that appeared to be tracking the ships.

The captain of the lead ship, ‘The Marianne’, noticed military vessels and reconnaissance planes near Marianne on Saturday afternoon. The crew could not identify nationality for neither the vessels or the planes. The vessel and plane disappeared around 5pm, and the crew has not seen any sign of them since then.

According to a statement by the group, the Flotilla is due to reach Gaza in just a few days. Participants on board include about 50 human rights activists, journalists, artists, and political figures representing 17 countries. This is the third Freedom Flotilla, in addition to nine single boats that have undertaken to sail to Gaza, beginning in 2008 when several voyages reached Gaza City harbor and returned to Europe after their mission of bringing supplies and solidarity to the people of Gaza.

Israeli forces attacked every subsequent attempt to break the siege on Gaza by sea, seizing the humanitarian goods, medical supplies and water treatment equipment on the ships and arresting the participants. In an attack which garnered international attention, Israeli paratroopers dropped onto a Freedom Flotilla ship called the ‘Mavi Marmara’ and began shooting the passengers, killing nine.

In the current Freedom Flotilla, a converted fishing trawler, dubbed the ‘Marianne of Gothenburg’ left Sweden in May to join the flotilla and has made numerous stops along its journey around Europe. Marianne is carrying solar panels that will help alleviate the serious problem of electricity in Gaza, as well .as medical equipment. Three other sailing vessels (Rachel, Vittorio and Juliano II) are accompanying Marianne in its mission to break the blockade of Gaza, in solidarity with the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. With different strategies and different itineraries, the group says they will continue to sail until the blockade is lifted and Gaza’s port is open.

Dr. Basel Ghattas, a member of the Israeli Knesset, is on board one of the ships, as well as Dr. Moncef Marzouki, former President of Tunisia, the first president after the 2011 popular uprising. Members of parliament from Spain, Jordan, Greece and Algeria are also on board, together with members of European Parliament. Ten of the current participants and crew have been on previous missions. Media outlets on board the flotilla are Al Jazeera, Euronews, Maori TV (New Zealand), Al-Quds TV, Channel 2 TV (Israel) and Russia Today TV, as well as several independent print journalists.

Over 100 European Parliamentarians have signed a letter to the EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, in support of the Freedom Flotilla and calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza.

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Argentine court orders seizure of Falklands/Malvinas ‘illegal’ oil drillers’ assets

RT | June 28, 2015

Argentina has ordered the seizure of assets belonging to foreign drilling companies operating in the vicinity of Falklands / Malvinas Islands, saying they have failed to obtain the necessary permissions from Buenos Aires to conduct exploration.

A federal judge in Tierra del Fuego, Lilian Herraez, has ordered authorities to seize the assets of five companies drilling for oil in the Falklands worth $156 mn. The measure was ordered following a request of a prosecutor from the Office of Economic Crime and Money Laundering (PROCELAC).

According to the prosecution, the order to seize assets was issued for “illegal activities of exploration, search and eventual extraction of hydrocarbons in proximity to the Falkland Islands” because the companies in question failed to obtain permits issued by “the competent authority in Argentina.”

According to a legal brief, the order involves halting the activities of the semi-submersible “Eirik Raude” rig and the floating dock“Noble Frontier”. Herraez also ordered the seizure of all vessels.

The five companies mentioned are: Premier Oil Plc, Rockhopper Exploration Plc, Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd, Noble Energy Inc and Edison International Spa. Three of them are UK based, one is American and the fifth is French-owned, based in Italy.

It remains unclear how these companies’ assets are supposed to be appropriated from territory officially under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. The companies in question do not generally hold any assets in Argentina or use Argentine waters, a source told Reuters.

However, the Argentine prosecutor’s office said it “had identified the assets of the foreign companies and discovered that one of them, the US firm Noble Energy, has a local office registered in Argentina.” Authorities will move to freeze those assets, it said.

“The foreign ministry will be notified of the court order so that by diplomatic means and in compliance with international treaties it can be carried out,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

In April, a group of British exploration companies found oil and gas in an area north of the Falkland Islands. The oil was discovered by the Eirik Raude floating drilling rig as part of an eight month exploration campaign. Argentina has predictably not been happy about the exploration activity, which is bound to further inflame tensions over the island’s disputed ownership.

In Argentina, the Falkland Islands are known as the ‘Islas Malvinas.’ The dispute between the UK and Argentina over the sovereignty of the islands has reemerged in recent years under President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Illegal Occupation | , , , | Leave a comment

Foreign investments in Israel cut by half in 2014

Palestine Information Center – June 25, 2015

NAZARETH – Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Israel dropped by nearly 50% in 2014 compared to 2013, a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reveals.

The report tracks a sharp decrease in percentages of foreign investments in Israel. In 2014 $6.4 billion were invested in Israel, whereas in 2013 $11.8 billion were invested – a decline of about 46%.

Moreover, Israeli FDI investments abroad also decreased from $4.67 billion in 2013 to $3.97 billion, a decrease of 15%. These figures are significantly lower than the corresponding figures from 2007 to 2005, before the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008.

“We believe that what led to the drop in investment in Israel are Operation Protective Edge [in reference to Israel’s military aggression on blockaded Gaza] and the boycotts Israel is facing,” Roni Manos of the College of Management and one of the authors of the report’s summary told Ynet.

According to Manos, there is another reason for the decline.

“In the past there were large transactions such as Waze and ISCAR Metalworking which boosted investment, but over the past year there were not enough such deals.”

According to the UN report, world FDI investments during the past year amounted to only $1.23 trillion, a 16% drop compared to 2013 ($1.47 trillion dollars).

The main reason for this, according to the report’s authors, is weak global economic growth and uncertainty regarding economic and business policy in many countries, which deterred many investors. Among others, the uncertainty due to the rate of quantitative easing in the US and Europe, the Greek debt crisis and its impact on stability in the Eurozone, and the pace of economic growth in China.

Other factors influencing the decline in global FDI were geopolitical risks such as the conflict in Ukraine, which has calmed down in recent months, the worsening of relations between the West and Russia, and revolutions and regime changes in several countries in the Middle East.

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

US Senate votes to prevent boycotting Israel

Press TV | June 25, 2015

The US Senate has passed a controversial trade bill that contains provisions opposing the growing international boycott movement against Israel.

The Senate passed the measure as part of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation. The legislation was already passed by the House of Representatives and can now be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The bill was passed under massive pressure from the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States.

The provisions require US negotiators to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel during the ongoing free trade negotiations with the European Union.

The BDS campaign seeks to increase economic and political pressure on Israel until the regime ends the occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

“Today, for the first time in nearly four decades, Congress sent legislation to the president’s desk to combat efforts to isolate and delegitimize the ‘state’ of Israel,” US Representative Peter Roskam wrote in a statement released shortly after the Senate vote.

“After today, discouraging economic warfare against Israel will be central to our free trade negotiations with the European Union,” said Roskam, one of the lawmakers who sponsored the provisions.

This comes as several groups and organizations in the European states have already supported the campaign against Israel.

The boycott campaign against Israel began in July 2005 by 171 Palestinian organizations, calling for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”

In 2013, two US academic groups — the American Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies — supported the boycott.

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 4 Comments

Ariel University chemical waste threatens agriculture in Selfit

MEMO | June 22, 2015

Chemical waste produced by the laboratories of Ariel University, in the illegal West Bank settlement of the same name, threatens Palestinian agricultural land in Salfit, locals reported.

According to the locals, Ariel University pours its chemical waste into the settlement’s sewer network which runs into the agricultural lands owned by Palestinians in Selfit thus polluting the groundwater, soil and air.

Environmental researcher Khalid Al-Maaly said Ariel University does not take the environment in the surrounding areas into account when pouring hazardous materials into the land turning it into a dumping ground because the waste flows without treatment.

According to Al-Maaly, nearly 20,000 students are enrolled at the university.

He called on the environmental institutions to visit Salfit and witness the suffering caused by the university’s sewage.

Al-Maaly stressed that the presence of Ariel University on Selfit’s land is contrary to international law which considers this area occupied and therefore state institutions cannot be built on it.

Last month, Israeli authorities expanded the university’s campus by constructing new laboratories and student dorms over lands confiscated from Palestinians in Selfit.

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Environmentalism, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | Leave a comment

Exposing Israel’s Ultra-nationalist Settler Movement

June 20, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , | Leave a comment

Displacement schemes targeting Palestinians in Jaffa (report)

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Palestine Information Center – June 20, 2015

The Israeli Judaization and displacement schemes have escalated especially in Jaffa city, north of Occupied Palestine, as the Israeli Authorities approved new settlement schemes targeting the city which was occupied in 1948.

The so-called Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and Israeli Planning and Building Committee in Tel Aviv endorsed a huge Judaization and settlement scheme which will be established on the ruins of Palestinian homes and lands in the Nozha neighborhood in Jaffa. The first phase of the scheme includes building 1,500 settlement units on 200 acres over a period of 3 years and will be allocated to rich Jews.

ILA claims that the Palestinian residents who live in this area will be expelled under the pretext that these lands are “state owned” and that the Palestinians are illegally living in them and they will be compensated if they agree to leave.

First phase

Abdul-Qadir Satal, head of the Popular Committee in Jaffa, told Quds Press that this settlement project is part of the Israeli government policy to Judaize the city, and it aims to build 5,000 settlement units and not only 1,500 settlement units as declared. He clarified that this malicious scheme complements previous Israeli Judaization schemes.

Satal added: “The residents of Nozha neighborhood are being subjected to displacement for the third time; as they were expelled to  the Ajmi neighborhood after the destruction of about 3,000 homes so as to build homes for the Jewish settlers, then they were forcibly displaced to the Nozha neighborhood and now they are being displaced again but this time they don’t know where to go.”

Satal pointed to the fact that the Palestinians in Jaffa are living in their homes as protected tenants; meaning that the authorities have the right to 60 percent of the home and only 40 percent of the home is for the Palestinian families. Moreover, the lands are owned by ILA and it has the right to dispose of them at any time against payment of compensation to the residents on the grounds that these properties are not owned by the Arabs who live in them but rather by the ILA under the Absentee Property Law.

Close danger

Satal stressed that the situation in Jaffa in critical; as the number of Palestinians is decreasing while the number of Jewish settlers is increasing on daily basis, and the Palestinians in Jaffa, who insist on staying in their lands, have sought support from the Palestinian institutions, associations, and committees abroad to face the ongoing Israeli schemes which target the city and provide alternatives to the Palestinian residents so that they would [not have to] abandon the city.

“We’ve dismissed the last employee in the Popular Committee due to the lack of financial resources, so now there is no one in the Committee to follow up on the cases that need urgent attention,” Satal said.

Satal said that Palestinian notables in Jaffa city will hold a meeting soon to come up with a plan to face this scheme, and expressed his fear that the constant harassment the Palestinians in Jaffa are suffering from may force some of them to consider leaving the city, which is “a grave danger that we’ve been trying to prevent for many years.”

June 20, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

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